Chicken Chili

chicken chili

I can't think of a better food for the cold days upon us than a big bowl of comforting chili. There is something special about the heat of chile peppers that has a rightful place in this stew. Chili is a great dish for bringing people together and it can feed a crowd very easily. This recipe can be doubled or tripled. It's perfect for when you have group of friends over for game-watching on Super Bowl Sunday. The best part about a recipe like this is that it can be prepared in advance and simply reheated when it's time to serve. No one needs to slave away at the stove and miss watching the game.

Chiles, specifically chile powder or dried chiles, are the key ingredients in making a robust and flavorful chili. But I go further than that and jazz things up with a combination of fresh peppers in varying stages of hotness. I like poblanos for their grassy flavor, red bell for their sweetness, cubanelle for their mild fresh flavor, and jalapeños for the kick. I broil the peppers until their skins blacken and blister. Not only does this step add flavor, it's nicer to eat the chili once the peppers have had their papery skins removed. The hotness of the jalapeños is also tamed by broiling, so the chili doesn't scream hot, but instead it hums.

Rather than the typical ground beef, I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut up into small chunks. Don't get me wrong, classic beef chili is great, but this one made with chicken is just as good, even tastier. Searing the meat produces a brown film on the bottom of the pan, which once scraped up into the sauce, adds lots of flavor to the finished chili. The spices are pretty much classic Tex-Mex: coriander, cumin, oregano, and epazote, which is a classic herb in Mexican cuisine. It has a unique flavor almost like a cross between citrus and anise.

When everyone is good and hungry and ready for chili, let them serve themselves buffet-style right from the pot. Offer a wide selection of toppings, such as tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, cubed avocado, cilantro, and lime wedges. And for those who like their chili very spicy and hot, I like to offer a few different hot sauces. People can customize their bowl of chili any way they want. I just love all the possibilities in a bowl of chili!

Chicken Chili

1 poblano pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 cubanelle pepper
2 jalapeño peppers
olive oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon flour
1 15-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried epazote
2 cups cooked beans, such as cannellini, kidney, or pinto
2 cups chicken stock

for toppings:
tortilla chips
shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
sour cream
2 Haas avocados, cubed
cilantro sprigs
lime wedges

Preheat the broiler with the rack in the uppermost position. Place peppers on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil peppers for 3 to 5 minutes per side until black and blistered. Alternatively, blacken peppers over a gas flame. Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for a few minutes to allow steam to loosen skins. Remove skins by rubbing peppers with paper towels. Remove stem and seeds. Wear gloves when handling jalapeño. Chop peppers.

Warm a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil. Sear chicken in batches until brown all over. Season with salt and pepper. Remove chicken to a bowl.

Refresh the pot with a little oil. Add onion and garlic; sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add chile powder, paprika, coriander, and cumin; toast for 1 minute. Add flour and stir to coat all the ingredients. Add tomatoes with their juices and oregano and epazote. Let reduce slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped peppers, reserved chicken, beans, and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook until the chicken is cooked through and the chili has thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. Check seasoning. Serve with toppings. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.